kristen reNae

travel

San Gimignano + Italian Cooking Class

s a n  g i m i g n a n o

The first day trip we took out of Florence was San Gimignano, you can see more pictures and read about it here. It was only a two hour bus ride and only cost about seven Euros per person. It was totally worth the adventure! And little did we know how much more we were going to get to experience San Gimignano.

After our week in Florence, we had planned to stay in a small tuscany town called Gebbia. You can read here why that didn’t work out so well. However, when we were there, we had several day trips planned, and one of them was for an Italian cooking class.

I was very much looking forward to this experience, as it had been on my bucket list forever! It was on the outskirts of San Gimignano, but we felt pretty confident that we could find the place (insert laughter now).

We left with more than enough time in the event that we got lost. However, navigating the streets of Italy is not an easy task (especially without a GPS). As soon as we drove up to our destination, it wasn’t to be found. It seriously took an additional 45 minutes of us driving back and forth down the same road, passing our final destination at least 5 times. Needless to say, we finally made it, but were terribly late.

Once we arrived at Il Vicario, our hostess, Katia and the other four guests were just beginning. So we washed up and threw on aprons for our hands-on-experience. We began with only one egg, a pinch of salt, and some flour. THREE ingredients to make some killer pasta!

We ended up making two different shapes of pasta, two sauces (one a classic tomato and another white bean – trust me, it would surprise you!), more than enough bruschetta to go around, a bread salad, a cheese appetizer, and last but not least, tiramisu! And after we finished up, we got to sit around the table and enjoy it all with a couple bottles of wine.

We seriously couldn’t have asked for a better group or class to do it with. And the crazy navigating just added to the joy of it all! And to end the day, we still needed to find another place for the evening that had Wi-Fi. Luckily, we were 10 minutes down the road from the center of San Gimignano, so we had an excellent recommendation of a place to stay.

Originally it was recommended that we eat at Bel Soggiorno, and when we visited the first time, it seemed like it was closed for off-season. However, after the cooking class we drove into town and were able to get a room at their hotel.

And honestly it couldn’t have been better. We had a gorgeous view to wake up to… and fortunately, it wasn’t the last time we would be there.

While wondering the streets of San Gimignano for some food, we decided to go off the main road and came upon an elderly gentleman. He was actually the father of the owner of Osteria Baccano and ultimately persuaded me to eat there.

He explained that the meaning of the restaurant name was “noisy tourist”, which he scolded his son for, but made us laugh. He explained that a woman from Portland visited often and they became friends, and that’s how he picked up speaking English.

We were the first to dine for the day, but by the time we left the place was packed! So we definitely picked one of the best restaurants to eat at!

We ended up staying in San Gimignano for a couple nights before we decided to head to Rome for a couple days. Although it wasn’t planned, it was such a beautiful experience!

Tuscany Day Trips + Wine Tasting

t u s c a n y

Our second half of our holiday trip in Italy was in a small village called Gebbia, outside of Civitella in di Chiana. We arrived a bit early, so we explored the almost abandoned Civitella. After our short walk around the city, we drove up the hill about 15 minutes to our even smaller village.

While waiting for the Airbnb host, we opened a bottle of wine and enjoyed it with some cheese and prosciutto while taking in the amazing view. It wasn’t too long (a bottle of wine later) that our host arrived and showed us the unit.



We absolutely loved the serenity. A drastic change from the streets of downtown Florence. No screeching ambulances or people yelling at three in the morning. Just peacefulness. It was all great, until we attempted to access the internet. This was a mandatory item due to work, so with some power lines down, we had to find a backup plan.

The next two evenings were a bit eventful trying to make sure each place had a decent connection. That evening we scurried over to a hotel in Arezzo for the night. And we witnessed the most beautiful sunset…

s i e n a

The following day, we scheduled another day trip to Siena. It was only about an hour drive from Arezzo. A much bigger town with a little bit more action going on.

We climbed the tower to have a 360-degree view over the city. It was a bit chilly, but beautiful. Afterwards, we roamed the city streets, checking out all of the history and old architecture.

On another recommendation, we stumbled upon Antica Osteria da Divo for lunch. We debated as the kitchen had just opened, but since they usually seat based on reservation, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity. And I would have to say that hands down that was the best service that we had our entire visit. Our server and sommelier took great pride in everything. Our food was prepared perfectly, and the presentation from the wine to the dessert, was beyond excellent!

The following few days were relaxing. We didn’t have any crazy New Year’s Eve plans, so we researched different events around our village. And as a last minute decision, we made reservations in the small Civitella by Gebbia.

NYE was definitely unexpected! We had dinner plans, but didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. The woman who took our reservation suggested nine, but didn’t give an explanation as to why, so we asked for an earlier time and she agreed. When we showed up for our reservation, the restaurant door was still locked – which we thought was unusual, but not completely out of the ordinary considering everything we had run into thus far.

A woman proceeded to open the door where we were led in to choose our table. At this time, our waitress (who spoke English) explained how NYE dinner works – they do not have multiple reservations, but rather the gathering is intimate and a celebration. They plan the evening completely from start to finish, from nine to midnight. We were provided a NYE menu, in which we thought we would choose from the pre-fixed menu… we were wrong. There were 12 items on the list, and we got to eat everything! After about the third appetizer, I was full, but we had so much more to go.

When the dessert comes, it is customary to go outside and watch the fireworks and toast champagne in the streets and then return to your table for your last glass of champagne and then an expresso or cappuccino. We didn’t realize until the end of dinner, that we were on the floor with the owner’s family. So, needless to say, we stuck out like a sore thumb. But we had so much fun, and will forever cherish the memories and tradition we experienced.

The next day, we had a full day planned ahead for another day trip. We adventured off to Montepulciano, Pienza, and Montalcino. All pretty close to each other.

m o n t e p u l c i a n o

Montepulciano was bigger than expected! We were traveling in off-season and here it was the most noticeable. We ventured off into the streets and came upon our first wine shop. After browsing around, we were invited to visit their cave below the storefront. This was awesome! It not only was a wine cellar, but basically a museum. Full of old farm tools, an olive making press, and aging cheese! A very awesome and unexpected adventure!

After this, we decided to explore more of the town. I had allotted two hours, but apparently we needed a bit more. So, unfortunately with our meter running out, we were unable to stop in any of the winery shops to do a tasting. This is one town I would like to see during the on-season – so that will be another trip to plan for.

p i e n z a

After Montepulciano, we headed down the road to Pienza. I read that it was maybe nine blocks long, so I knew we wouldn’t be here long. Especially considering how the last city was.

Alas, I was completely wrong. This little town was full of tourists! We attempted to go into a couple cheese shops to get some of the Pecorino cheese they are famous for, but were not welcomed by any means. So we walked the streets and took some pictures and grabbed some cheese on our way out from another (not so famous store). Overall, a nice, quick visit, but the experience could have been better.

c h a p e l  o f  o u r  l a d y  v i t a l e t a

From Pienza to Montalcino, you are driving through beautiful tuscan hills, sprinkled with cypress trees and old farm houses. As we were driving, we came across the Chapel of our Lady Vitaleta. We originally thought we had already missed it, so we were excited when we saw it in the distance. It was so amazing to see this in person!

m o n t a l c i n o

Next stop, Montalcino! I thought this town couldn’t possibly have as much charm as Montepulciano, considering the size, however, I was way wrong. They had a bit better view from their hilltop and a beautiful tower with their Christmas tree out front (still playing Christmas music)! But just as many stores were closed (more closed than open) but we managed to run across a wine bar, which thankfully we had a young gentleman there, Paolo, help us out.

After a small tasting, we walked a few doors down to a restaurant which had a magnificent view. Our server paired our lunch with a tasting of their Brunello wines they are famous for. The wine and food did not disappoint! After our late lunch, we explored the empty streets until sunset. I would definitely visit again!

w i n e  t a s t i n g

c a p a n n e l l e

g a i o l e  i n  c h i a n t i

Poggio Antico in Montalcino and Avignonesi in Montepulciano were both recommended wineries. Unfortunately, they were both not available due to it being off-season during our visit. So, on another recommendation (and another day), we were able to make a reservation at Capannelle in Gaiole In Chianti. 

Almost impossible to find, but we managed to get their right on time! Once we arrived, our host introduced herself and immediately started the tour. Their boutique winery also offers a small resort for a short stay or special events.

The tour included a brief overview of their grounds and history before we proceeded downstairs. Here, they make wine, store their barrels + aging bottles, and a very VIP wine vault! We learned a lot about the details that are included in their process.

After the tour, we were taken back upstairs where our tasting was to begin. When we made a reservation, our initial thought was due to the low-season, they wanted to make sure they had the appropriate staff. However, we had no idea that you get your personal one-on-one host to take you through the process! It was such a genuine experience, and honestly, I wish all wine tasting was done this way!

Such a great experience being able to travel through the tuscan hills and visit so many villages. Each adventure was unique in it’s own way and I loved every piece of it.

 

c h e e r s

Top 10 Things to do in Florence

When I began researching and asking around of things to do in Florence, it became very apparent that Florence CANNOT be done in one day. Well, at least not to get a genuine experience. We spent a full week there, and with jet lag and getting acquainted with the area, I couldn’t imagine doing it in less than three days.

You will find more details about our trip in my Florence post here (and more pictures!). Below I share my Top 10 Things that you must do in Firenze!

Top 10 Things to do in Florence:

  1. Buy a Firenze Card. I don’t think it matters which season you visit, it will make your time there (short or long) very worthwhile and a little less painful (if you don’t like lines).We debated on getting the Firenze Card, especially because we were going in off-season, however, we ended up getting it and were happy with our decision. Not only do you get to bypass the line(s) for tickets, but financially it made a difference in the end as well. Here is a breakdown:
    • Basillica di Santa Croce – open 930-530 – 8 Euros
    • Galleria degli Uffizi – Tues-Sun 815-650 – 16.5 euros
    • Galleria del Academia -Tues-Sun 815-650 – 12 Euros
    • Il Duomo – Various hours – 15 Euros 
    • Baptistery – 815-1030/1115-630 – 7 Euros
    • Boboli Gardens & Pitti Palace – 815-430 – 7 Euros
  2. Try the bistecca fiorentina. I grew up in Oklahoma, so I am very acquainted with meat, and meat that is extremely rare. However, in a foreign country, even I was hesitant. Don’t be! I am drooling just thinking about it!
  3. Eat the food. Don’t be afraid to try anything and everything. We asked restaurant owners and servers what they would suggest or would just let them choose if there was a language barrier. We were never disappointed!
  4. Hike to the Piazzale Michelangelo. You could always take a taxi, but you would miss out on sooo much scenery in between. Do the hike, thank me later! 
  5. Explore on and around the Ponte Vecchio. The bridge is beautiful to look at, but the streets around it and on it are full of unique shops.
  6. Visit ALL of the churches. This will not disappoint! The majority of them are free and you will be surprised by how much history each of them contain!
  7. Purchase items from the little shops. I love cheese and prosciutto. Actually, love is an understatement. Florence has so many meat and cheese shops for you to try a little of everything! Note that you will need to know how to ask for a certain amount in their metric system. They also offer fresh bread in the majority of them. Did I mention that I love cheese? And prosciutto?!
  8. Visit the Mercato Centrale. We stumbled upon this place on one of our last days in Florence, and it was a great find! The top floor has a ton of foodie places, whether you are looking for a full lunch or some tapas, you will find what you need. The lower floor is an actual food market, with an eclectic mix of food and goods!
  9. Admire the statues in Piazza della Signoria. Before or after leaving the Uffizi, this square is only a few feet away – and again, you will be in awe at the magnitude of this art that towers over you.
  10. Watch street performers. Around the duomo, squares, and markets, you will find musicians, painters, and street chalk designers. Grab some gelato and enjoy!
  11. BONUS: Depending on how much time you have, take a day trip to one of the many tuscany villages that surround Florence. By train or car, you won’t be too far to have another adventure!

Cheers!